Blog Summit Reaction: Where the Rubber Meets the Road
- The democratizing effect of the blogosphere.
- How this democratization interacts with the traditional media in an attempt to garner influence.
But the focus of the other panels seemed to lean most heavily on the second theme, while largely taking the first as a given. Aside from a few comments here and there -- like one by John Kraus about the need for blogs to take their message deeper into the community via activism and organizing -- the majority of the discussion seemed to agree that working through the traditional media defined the blogosphere's influence and, as a result, its success.
A number of instances of blog stories "breaking through" into the traditional media were tossed about by panelists and commenters alike to serve as examples of how blogging is making -- or, at least, can make -- a difference.
But it wasn't noted that most, if not all, of these breakthrough stories are essentially muckraking in nature. A blogger records something a politician says, other bloggers pick up on it, eventually it hits the traditional media, and then the politician is forced to issue a comment on the matter.
I don't want to take away from this purpose of blogging. More accountability is certainly important (although it could be argued that the fact everything politicians say can be recorded and used against them simply reduces candor and increases the use of strictly rehearsed canned comments).
But there is a whole other side to blogging that doesn't really have any way of participating in this -- that is, the policy discussion side. This is the side of blogging that isn't seeking to report any new stories, but rather critically discuss issues of importance more in the manner that an op-ed columnist would.
The awesome power of the Internet not only allows voices to be recorded and easily reproduced, it also allows access to a variety of information that bloggers can pull together and share with readers through links that can enhance discussion and awareness of a topic. What's more, the comments allowed on most blogs create a space for immediate engagement with readers and it also provides an opportunity for the reader to use the awesome power of the Internet to call the blogger on half-baked analyses or outright disingenuousness.
There's really no way this side of blogging can be fully replicated in traditional media formats like print, television, or radio. So the idea that bloggers gain their influence and, as a result, their success through breaking stories that eventually get picked up in the traditional media leaves the policy side of blogging entirely behind.
And, to the extent that bloggers are trying to be influential, the belief that bloggers best (or only) shot at success comes through muckraking makes issue-oriented blogging largely irrelevant.
I admit to being a bit biased on this question since I see this blog as more of an issue-oriented blog than one that does any sort of actual reporting in the journalistic sense. To me, the main problem with politics is its commercialization, which has come largely through the way the media packages it into easily consumable soundbites along with coverage that focuses on stories aimed at eliciting the same type of emotional reaction that people get from watching "Desperate Housewives" or "24" (i.e., scandals, violence, etc.).
There seem to be fewer and fewer places people can go to get hard-hitting critical news pieces, and it was always my hope that the blogosphere -- or at least a portion of it -- could serve as one of those places.
And, to an extent, I think that parts of the blogosphere do provide this type of place, but the discussion at the blog summit seemed to be aimed at the other parts of the blogosphere that are seeking to interact or compete, depending on your perspective, with the traditional media, which, I fear, is simply going to result in the commercialization of the blogosphere in much the same way that our political culture in general has been commercialized.
Muckraking, while undoubtedly important, is tailor-made for the type of emotionally-based political coverage that's become the favored style of the business-minded media. Scandalous and horrifying sells, the critical examination of a policy issue simply doesn't.
So where does this leave issue-oriented blogging?
It seems to me success for issue-oriented blogging just isn't going to come through direct interaction with the traditional media in the same way as muckraker-blogging. And I understand the argument that issue-oriented blogging can be important in the sense that opinion leaders may be reading it, and they just might spread the message through their traditional media megaphones.
But this, to me, leaves things too much to chance, while also unjustifiably legitimizing the place of those opinion leaders as the gatekeepers for how issues should be perceived by the public. What's more, it's essentially tossing in the towel on the democratizing potential of the blogosphere, and succumbing to the belief that the hierarchy of the traditional media is and should be the name of the game.
Rather, the best bet for issue-oriented blogging influence and, as a result, success is for it to become a piece of a larger puzzle. It gets back to Kraus' point about the need for blogging to turn to grassroots activism to create a human element where the virtual discussion can be played out.
In this sense, the issue-oriented blog would be a facet that works in conjunction with meet-ups, forums, leafleting, etc., where the rubber, so to speak, would actually meet the road. While it may work for some national blogs to remain predominantly online and still have an effect on public opinion due to their extensive readership, the issue-oriented state and local blogs -- for the most part -- simply can't in order to gain wide influence and success.
This presents severe limits for someone like me who doesn't have the time or mindset for the activism that could take my issue-oriented blogging to the next level. But I suppose it's somewhat comforting to think that I could if I would.
UPDATE: Go here to see my follow-up on who I think the issue-oriented blogging should be influencing.